FOR Sydney-sider and loyal Byron tourist Shona Forsyth, 'nothing much has changed' in Byron Bay since taking her eldest child whale-watching 16 years ago. Tourist statistics, however, tell a different story.
The national media spotlight turned unfavourably on Byron Bay at the weekend, reporting dwindling tourism figures and painting an anti-family town where 'common tourists are shunned'.
The report, published in The Australian and quoting the Australian Bureau of Statistics, found Byron Bay guest check-ins decreased by 4.2 per cent between 2007 and 2008, compared to family-friendly Noosa which boasted an increase of the same number.
Byron mayor Jan Barham came out swinging yesterday against The Australian's allegations that Byron 'is increasingly withdrawn and focused on external debates about its future direction and whether the tourism industry should continue to be the main employer'.
“Of course tourism is our mainstay,” she said. “But we have to keep aware that the best tourism is the tourism that makes the host town happy.”
At the heart of Byron Bay's tourism issue is holiday-letting in residential zones, to which Cr Barham is vehemently opposed.
“Our holiday letting stance is not about stopping tourism, it's about regulating visitors to maintain infrastructure,” she said.
“I've been very loud in ensuring that families - a more loyal type of tourist - return to Byron by stopping the New Year's Eve partying which was a huge turn-off for families.”
However, Byron United vice-president James Lancaster attributed Byron's tourism downturn to its 'anti-tourist' council.
Mr Lancaster said that while only a vocal minority of Byron Bay locals where against tourism, he could 'understand why visitors feel unwelcome'.
“Residential holiday-lettings make up 60 per cent of beds in Byron Bay outside of holiday parks. How can you possibly be in favour of tourism if you are against residential holiday-letting?” he said.
“The council is responsible for the drop in tourist numbers. Without growth and development, you die. Noosa has managed to do it.
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